Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Although The Ripening Seed was not Colette’s first published work, this book marked the first time that she published under her own name rather than using her husband’s. This novel, which was originally intended for magazine serialization (until the editors discovered that it ended with an adolescent love scene), falls into a common pattern of adolescent love triangles which involve older women. Nevertheless, like most of Colette’s love stories, this novel is more, for it leads its characters, especially the adolescent heroine, on a search not only for the self but also for a sexual identity and equality within a traditional relationship. Without consciously addressing the issues of feminism, Colette explored them in a symbolic manner through her growing use of nature and sexual ambiguities. Regardless of this inherent symbolism, however, Colette’s novels are set in the real world, a world in which society dictates male and female roles. Although there is a tendency to place Colette among the canon of women writers, such as George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, her characters and their struggles are limited by the very theme which they explore, love. Colette was aware of the traditions of French literary formalism, of the need for temporal unity and social realism, and she worked within these limits. Yet even within these limitations, she developed a style that was rich in sensuous imagery, very often using nature as her source.